Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Eggs broken, but where's the omelette?

You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs.

That’s a sentiment that’s repeatedly used, and for one purpose only: to justify damage to individuals to serve some more general and, supposedly, lofty goal. 

The present British government came to office determined to make omelettes, and it’s certainly broken a lot of eggs.

It’s aim was to wipe out the ‘structural’ budget deficit on public expenditure over its five year term. In effect, that would mean bringing public expenditure nearly into balance. Equally they were going to get public debt falling, because they regarded the high level of indebtedness as a disaster in itself as well as an indictment of the previous Labour government. Finally, with George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer, in the lead, they set up an acid test of their performance, protection of Britain’s triple-A credit rating.

George Osborne:
great at breaking eggs, not so good on the omelette
To achieve those aims, they cracked a lot of eggs, principally among the working and non-working poor. Systems that made life possible on low incomes, such as tax credits or housing benefits, have been eliminated or scaled back. The disabled have been forced off benefits by being classified as fit for work, with large numbers of these fit people subsequently dying. 

They also introduced what’s come to be known as the Bedroom Tax. This measure means that people on housing benefit who have a spare room, lose a proportion of their benefit to pay for it. For many this has created a double-bind: unable to cover their rent and unable to find smaller accommodation into which they could move, they face eviction and being made homeless.

Charities dealing with homelessness report large increases in their workload.

At the same time, Britain has half a million people dependent on food banks, compared to 40,000 when the government was formed.

So much for the broken eggs.

What about the omelette? Growth is back but at an anaemic rate. The coveted triple-A credit rating has been lost. The deficit is dipping but is still far higher than it was under Labour before the crisis struck. Even the government admits that the target of eliminating the ‘structural’ element within a parliament has been irretrievably missed.

As for debt, far from starting to fall, it’s risen from around 70% at the end of the Labour government to nearly 100% under the present one. The Tories liked to attack the previous, Labour government for amassing an unacceptable level of debt and leaving it to the next generation to manage for us.

Far from wiping out that debt they’ve hugely increased it. And since they’ve taken youth unemployment to nearly 20%, the highest level for 17 years, they’ve made it significantly more difficult for the next generation to deal with it.

And what has George Osborne's reaction been to this track record?

He wants to take another £25 billion out of the benefit budget.

That’s going to plunge a lot more people into grinding poverty. It will break a lot more eggs. But will it produce a better omelette? Or will it just give the same results of the cuts we've seen so far, and make things a lot worse?

Would Labour make things better? Well, they did last time. They got many things wrong, but they spent a lot on improving the NHS and they took a million kids out of poverty. Under the present government, 300,000 have been driven back in, and the NHS is groaning at the seams.

Osborne has at least made the choice before us clear. On the one hand, Labour which made some limited progress in dealing with a series of fundamental problems. On the other hand, a Conservative Party which has failed to achieve its stated goals despite inflicting devastating cuts on the rest of us. And, with that enviable track record, they
re asking us to give them a chance to do a lot more of the same for another five years.

Does anyone really want to give them that opportunity? Or, putting it another way, if you’re contemplating voting Tory – are you sure you can really afford it?

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